This episode of Expedition! was originally broadcast February 14, 1961. The episode covered Operation Sandblast: the underwater circumnavigation of the globe by the US Navy first-generation nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton, starting February 24, 1960 and ending April 25, 1960. The trip covered 26,723 nautical miles (49,491 km) in 60 days and 21 hours, crossing the equator on four different occasions.
Operation Sandblast was the code name for the first submerged circumnavigation of the world, executed by the United States Navy nuclear-powered radar picket submarine USS Triton (SSRN-586) in 1960 under the command of Captain Edward L. Beach. The New York Times described Triton's submerged circumnavigation of the Earth as "a triumph of human prowess and engineering skill, a feat which the United States Navy can rank as one of its bright victories in man's ultimate conquest of the seas."
The circumnavigation took place between 24 February and 25 April 1960, covering 26,723 nautical miles (49,491 km; 30,752 mi) over 60 days and 21 hours. The route began and ended at the St. Peter and Paul Rocks in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator. During the voyage, Triton crossed the Equator four times while maintaining an average speed of 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). Triton's overall navigational track during Operation Sandblast generally followed that of the first circumnavigation of the world, led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan from 1519 to 1522.
The initial impetus for Operation Sandblast was to increase American technological and scientific prestige before the May 1960 Paris Summit between U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. It also provided a high-profile public demonstration of the capability of U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarines to carry out long-range submerged operations independent of external support and undetected by hostile forces, presaging the initial deployment of the U.S. Navy's Polaris ballistic missile submarines later in 1960. Finally, Operation Sandblast gathered extensive oceanographic, hydrographic, gravimetric, geophysical, and psychological data during Triton's circumnavigation.
Although official celebrations for Operation Sandblast were cancelled following the diplomatic furor arising from the shooting down of a CIA U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union in early May 1960, Triton did receive the Presidential Unit Citation with a special clasp in the form of a golden replica of the globe in recognition of the successful completion of its mission, and Captain Beach received the Legion of Merit for his role as Triton's commanding officer. In 1961, Beach received the Magellanic Premium, the United States' oldest and most prestigious scientific award, from the American Philosophical Society in "recognition of his navigation of the U.S. submarine Triton around the globe."
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